This weekend I spoke at two conferences, one at the University of Stirling, Scotland, and the other at the University of Essex. This is the first time I’ve given papers.. Friday I read my paper in Stirling and took the sleeper train down that night. Saturday I was in Essex and read the paper again there. So, a bit of a baptism by fire!
The first conference, at the University of Stirling, was on ‘Textual Revolutions.’ It was interdisciplinary and its Call For Papers, put together by organisers Gary Cape and Steven Craig, was an extremely inspired one, if a little intimidating:
Hegel’s belief in the redemptive power of revolution – that revolution is part of an essentially benign process of history – is at odds with Friedrich Nietzsche’s position that revolution is a ‘source of energy in mankind grown feeble but never a regulator, architect, artist, [or] perfector of human nature’. This tension over the nature of revolution constitutes our point of departure in an interdisciplinary forum that seeks to explore ‘revolutions’ and the language of revolution.
I won’t lie – I modified work that I already had, making it fit the conference title.. At the same time the title and the questions posed were thought-provoking and had some effect on my final draft. The conference at Essex, called ‘Pioneering Endeavours’, was a smaller occasion, with my fellow PhD students, and I got some particularly valuable feedback here from colleagues. I’m really surprised at how much writing a paper for a real audience, and working on the assumption that many of them would not be from a Film Studies discipline, helped me to clarify for myself a sense of what my study is all about. It makes you simplify things too. While this can certainly have its problems, it does allow you to see things in a slightly more abstract way, seeing the bigger picture to some extent. Talking of which, I publish below the “abstract” that I initially sent out. I’m hoping to get a video-recording up here too, fairly soon, of the full paper, along with a text version. But for now!:
Between Griffith and Brecht: Cinema and the Transnational in Fritz Lang’s Fury.
Fritz Lang’s first American film Fury (1936) poses both ontological questions on the nature of cinema and political questions on the position of the émigré. Close textual analysis of the ways in which these questions interrelate within Fury reveals a work deeply engaged with the complexities and contradictions of the turbulent 1930s.
Beyond more obvious readings of Fury as representing either Nazism in Germany or lynching in America, we can see the film as offering a transnational discourse on the nature of cinema. This is achieved through a division at the film’s mid-point, shifting from an impulsive cinematic style to a rationalist meta-cinematic one, codified as in turn “American” (via e.g. the technique of cross-cutting developed by Griffith) and “European” (via e.g. Brecht’s lehrstucke, or learning-plays.) Contrary to readings of the film as, through its outsider protagonist, in support of the apparently superior perspective of the “exile” filmmaker, this dialectic places both the director and audience within the text as active agents of cinematic form. Considering Lang under the alternative paradigm of the “tourist” reveals, ironically, a politically committed filmmaker. Caren Kaplan notes that ‘Rather than simply inventing modernity through … recognition and documentation, the tourist acts as a witness to the breakup of modernity. The tourist … straddles eras, modes of production, and systems of thought.’ Close analysis of Lang’s Fury reveals a Marxist filmmaker, grappling with his new role in Hollywood, not merely allegorizing the differences between “American” and “European” cinema (as in his previous films) but rather tying this dialectic into the film’s structure and its patterns of audience identification. Encouraged to recognize the inevitably “touristic” nature of the cinematic experience the viewer of Fury becomes, potentially, part of a transnational cinematic language of revolution.